Many Special Operations units in today’s military place a large emphasis on training to be able to conduct the maritime operations mission set. Most elite units such as Navy SEALs, Marine Force Recon, Army SF, Air Force PJ’s and CCT have a combat dive capability. From maritime operations to dive ops, these elite units are masters of their craft.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon McKenney and Petty Officer 3rd Class Randall Carlson assemble an M240G machine gun 15 feet underwater during the 4th Annual Recon Challenge at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Sept. 15. Time was deducted or added to the team’s finish time depending on whether or not the weapon was assembled correctly.

SF Selection Prep

Special operators must be willing and able to go through some of the most rigorous training the U.S. military has to offer to be prepared to take on one of the most unpredictable and dangerous environments planet Earth has to offer; the ocean.

Stress Training

It is often said that “water is the great equalizer,” this is because you can take a strong-minded and physically fit individual and break him completely in a matter of minutes.  This is accomplished by causing fatigue and inducing small amounts of stress while training in an aquatic environment.

Even the biggest “studs” can succumb to complete panic and enter survival mode if small amounts of stress are introduced into a safely structured training environment. So, if you are uncomfortable in the water, but want to be in an elite unit with a diving capability, how can you prepare yourself both mentally and physically?

SF Fitness

To start, the vast majority of people can eventually become physically ready to take on a course such as BUDS or the Basic Reconnaissance Course, but very few have what it takes to handle the mental stress that will be endured daily. That being said, there are ways you can better prepare yourself both mentally and physically for the aquatic portions of training. Firstly, if your cardiovascular and muscular endurance is at a high level, then you already have a leg up on the competition.

Remaining calm during training events such as an open ocean swim, or weighted tread in the pool, can become tough when extreme fatigue sets in.  This is because you are much more likely to panic when fatigued. A panicked swimmer is always at a much higher risk of becoming a drowning victim.

There are countless ways to train to become a more proficient swimmer and increase your water confidence.  We will go over a few that can help you, coming from the perspective of Instructors of some of the above-mentioned courses. The easy and obvious first tip is to do long-distance swims to build both endurance and water confidence. As with all the drills and tips mentioned here, you should begin “slick” (just in a pair of swimming shorts) and slowly add articles of clothing as your confidence and ability increase.  Do this until you are fully clothed to include boots. Your attire should closely resemble modern camouflage utilities and combat boots.

Tip number two is to practice treading weighted items. This is crucial to building water confidence as well as endurance. Start slick with no more than five pounds, attempt to keep the item out of the water and completely dry, and do this for as long as you can. Remember to keep two hands on the item at all times and to try and tread in place.  If you are constantly moving backward or forward, you risk the possibility of coming into contact with other swimmers.  

Becoming entangled with a classmate when you are actually in a course can throw off both of your rhythms and cause panic in a less confident swimmer. Once you become fatigued and put the item in the water, stop, place the item on the edge of the pool, rest and try it again. As you become comfortable treading weight, slowly start increasing the amount of weight and articles of clothing. Adding weight and items of clothing will increase your proficiency and boost your water confidence.


Increase Breath Hold

The last tip that we will give in this article is to increase your breath-hold. There are multiple ways of doing this. From just holding your breath on the side of the pool, to doing cardio, there is no wrong answer. As long as you consistently practice and strive to make your breath hold longer, it will steadily increase.  

One tip we can give is retrieving weighted items from the bottom of a 12 to 15-foot pool. You can add a million different variations to this drill such as treading, dropping the item then retrieving it, or dropping a handful of change in the pool and trying to come up with a specific amount. As long as you are becoming more comfortable being at the bottom of the pool, you are building water confidence and increasing your breath-hold.

An example exercise begins with retrieving the item from the bottom, bringing it to the surface, treading the item until fatigued, and repeating. Once this becomes easy to add any variations that you want, as long as you are continually challenged you should be building up your lung capacity breath-hold.

Water Confidence

In conclusion, these are not the end-all-be-all be-all drills to make you a perfect swimmer with an unbreakable will and an endless supply of water confidence. These are just some tips and drills that can benefit you in preparation for military selection courses that are aquatic-based. All of these drills can be modified and made easier or more difficult based on your skill level.

The main thing to focus on is progressing and building water confidence. You must get used to being uncomfortable and accept the fact that these courses are designed to be tough and test you no matter how well you prepare. Showing up to these courses as prepared as possible can be the difference between you passing or failing the selection process.  

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